October 1st (Wednesday)

Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything. — George Bernard Shaw —

October 1st (Wednesday)

I was going to give today’s journal writing a skip as I found it absolutely ridiculous, pouring out my thoughts and feelings onto pieces of paper. But that all became moot when I had a chat with my eccentric neighbour, Mr Mahon.

He was fiddling with some mechanical gizmo while I was taking my labrador, Cuddy, out for a jog around the neighbourhood. Mr Mahon, a computer engineer/analyst has been my neighbour for close to twenty years now but I hardly knew him. He is a reclusive with a hermetic lifestyle, to say the least. Surprisingly enough, he initiated the conversation today and was quite talkative.


Our conversation started regarding my work at the hospital. He was asking about seriously ill patients with flu-like illness. Questioning about our readiness in coping with a pandemic or an epidemic. I reassured him that ever since the last SARS outbreak, we haven’t seen anything similar yet. It felt like he was onto something and he showed me an article from The Guardian, dated in July. I am now staring at the same article online and have also dug up another from the June issue of the Science Magazine published in the US. Two different publications from two different continents talking about almost the same thing.

The Guardian article was entitled — “Coronavirus: is this the next pandemic?”. It carried news about an outbreak of a novel coronavirus which was affecting the Middle East. At least, this time around, the authorities have been alerted and WHO was already taking steps to counter the spread of the disease. This was not going to be another SARS again. As for the Science Magazine, they were focusing on the global efforts to prevent a repeat of the SARS outbreak, a decade ago. But just how much safer are we?

The new virus, identified by Mohamed Zaki, a virologist, was being designated as NCoV (New Coronavirus). What an ingenious way for naming it. Advancement in science ever since SARS led to better identification of new strains, but many of the social issues still remain. No country would admit to having a new health threat within its borders, especially when the economic and political consequences can be huge. I found it disturbing when the article mentioned that Ziad Memish, Saudi Arabia’s deputy minister for public health, denied the possibility of such virus within the country. He was adamant that it probably came from a neighbouring country. Then, why did the virologist found himself out of a job? Mr Mahon claimed he read on the Internet that there were possibilities of the infection already affecting Qatar, Yemen and Jordan.

Many questions remain and they are not being answered fast enough. At the moment, WHO is undergoing a reshuffling of posts at the top level, it might take a few weeks for the new WHO assistant director-general to gather his new task force and focus on the virus. I managed to glean from the article that most of the manpower behind the SARS outbreak, were no longer working for the WHO. This could be bad.

On another interesting note, aside from a few incidents of laboratory infections, no further human cases of SARS have ever been found since July 2003. The pilgrimage season has already started and there might have been those who were on their way back from Saudi Arabia, as I write. Why was he worried about this, or is he just one of those end-of-the-world preppers?

By the way, I found out about his gizmo online — a quadcopter. Now, this is a sturdy piece of remote-controlled engineering, with four rotor blades instead of the usual two. Giving the user a much steady hover and allows the drone to carry an onboard camera with first-person-view capabilities.

If his quadcopter is loaded with a GPS system, he could have easily keyed in the coordinates and the quadcopter will go about and do his work for him. Depending on the camera’s lens definition, we are talking about some serious aerial photography and videography.

I wonder what is he doing with a thing like this?

Remind me to ask him the next time we meet.

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